2 Thessalonians 1:3-12 – Paul’s perspective on prayer

PAUL’S PERSPECTIVE ON PRAYER.

 

2 Thessalonians 1:3-12.

 

INTRODUCTION.

 

As we come to the end of one year and the beginning of another – as you look back and forward – what will you prayer for?

As you look back at 1996 what will you thank God for – and as you look forward to 1997 what will be your desire of God?

 

Do I need to ask the question – do you even pray? Do you talk to God? What do you talk about?

Is what we pray for determined by our wants and desires or is our prayer agenda molded by what God considers important?

 

What can we learn about prayer and how to pray aright from this prayer of Paul’s for the Church in Thessalonica.

 

This is the prayer:

2 Thessalonians 1:11-12

11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

 

In order to understand this prayer we need to ask “With what in mind?”

v.11 begins “With this in mind,..” What? v.3-10 tell us what Paul has in mind as he prays for the Christians in Thessalonica. This is Paul’s Perspective on Prayer –

 

1. PAUL IS THANKFUL FOR THE PRESENT EVIDENCE OF GRACE.

          (2. Paul is confident in the future prospect of vindication)

 

Thanksgiving is clearly part of Paul’s Perspective on Prayer. But what is it that Paul gives thanks for ?

 

What do we most commonly give thanks for?

  • grace at meals
  • for material blessings – house, job, food,
  • we may shoot up a brief prayer of thanks along with a sigh of relief for a near miss on the motorway
  • for someone recently converted
  • for recovery from a serious illness

 

BUT for the most part our prayer of thanksgiving relate to our material well-being and comfort – the bare truth is that our most frequent expressions of thanks reflect what we value the most. If it is true that a large proportion of our prayers are thanksgiving for material prosperity then it is because we value material things.

 

The things Paul mentions may not be the things that we are in the habit of thanking God for.

 

1.1. Paul gives thanks that his readers’ faith is growing.

2 Thessalonians 1:3

3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more,……

 

growing faith – not referring to the initial faith that they had at salvation – when they were converted – when they first can into a living relationship with Jesus.

He is referring to their increasing reliance upon the Lord.

 

The word for faith (pistis) can equally mean trust or faithfulness – These Thessalonians are growing – they are not content with yesterday’s attainments but are striving for spiritual maturity –

Is this your experience? Are you growing spiritually? If you are asked to say what Jesus means to you, do you have a current testimony of your relationship with God now or is it the same stale testimony of 10 years ago?

 

Paul gives thanks because he sees in the Thess. Xns a growing faith.

 

1.2. Paul gives thanks that their love is increasing.

2 Thessalonians 1:3-4

3 We ought always to thank God for you, brothers, and rightly so, because your faith is growing more and more, and the love every one of you has for each other is increasing…….

 

Paul is not talking about their love for God [although that is probably increasing too] but he is talking about their practical love for each other – not some sloppy sentimental feeling.

 

What is it that is causing this love for each other? It can only be because they are Jesus’ disciples.

John 13:34-35

34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV)

 

But surely any group that has a common purpose has a kind of tolerance and cohesion – camera clubs and football clubs and Choral Societies etc… there can of course be divisions and power politics in such groups but it is not unusual to see a certain level of love and care in such groups.

 

The church – ideally at least – is different because it is as varied as can be; made up of people who, humanly speaking, very often have nothing in common ~~ can have rich and poor, learned and unlearned, practical and impractical, sophisticated and unsophisticated, disciplined and flighty, intense and carefree, introvert and extrovert…… the only thing that holds all this together is their devotion to Jesus flowing out of his incredible love for them.

 

That is why when there are squabbles and infighting in a congregation it is because this love and purpose have been lost sight of and there is nothing at a social, economic or educational level to hold it together.

If Christians lose sight of their first and primary allegiance, viz. to Jesus, there will be squabbles.

 

Our love for Jesus is mirrored in our love for others who profess to love the same Jesus. We must however ask ourselves this question – “Am I involved in the lives of my fellow Christians – thus being in a position to show love” I all you ever do is come to Church on a Sunday morning and that is the sum total of your Christian fellowship then it is easy to be loving because it is only skin deep – it is easy to love from a distance. If you live in isolation as a Christian then you need to question your love and devotion to Jesus.

 

Paul has heard reports of the growing love that the Thessalonian Xns have for each other – this is not just true of a small, spiritually elite group within the church but it is true of ‘every one of you’ – Paul knows that this must be the work of God and directs his thanks and praise to God for the evidence of his grace in the lives of these Thessalonian Christians.

 

1.3. Paul gives thanks for their perseverance under trial.

 

2 Thessalonians 1:4 4 Therefore, among God’s churches we boast about your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and trials you are enduring. (NIV)

 

This is not simply Paul’s private view – it is the view of his fellow workers “we” and they share this with other Churches as an example and an encouragement.

 

Paul is not patting himself on the back saying “Look what a wonderful Church I have planted!” NO! He is saying “Look at these Thessalonians – they are a testimony to the grace of God – look how they are growing and loving each other even in difficult circumstances and in the face of opposition – they just keep on! Isn’t this a great example and encouragement to the rest of us!”

His boasting is in effect praise to God !

 

What does all this tell us about Paul’s Perspective on Prayer?

Paul has a heavenly mindset – the things that he values and cherishes are the things of God – it doesn’t mean that he wasn’t concerned about the earthly things but he has a heavenly perspective.

If it had been me – I would have been preoccupied that God would remove the suffering and trials and make life easy for them. Maybe Paul prayed that BUT it was not he preoccupation – he was more concerned for their perseverance in the midst of difficulty.

 

If what we prize is earthly and transitory then our hearts and minds will incline to that – Jesus taught that our hearts will run to where our treasure is….

Matthew 6:19-21

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (NIV)

 

Like Paul we must look for signs of grace in the lives of others for which we can thank God – it can be a great encouragement and incentive to us when we see the grace of God at work in the lives of others.

 

What of our lives ?? What do others see in us? Are we an encouragement to others for the way we respond to difficulty and trial?  ~flat tyre ~ redundancy ~ illness ~ a disappoinment ~ dropped from the team ~ dumped by your girl-friend~ ~~

When last did you prais God for what you observe in other Christians??  When last did you take the Church Directory and pray through it – praising God for the members — or take time to pray for the missionaries you know — “Thank you Lord for their trust, their faithfulness, their stickability, their love …”

 

There is another feature of  Paul’s Perspective on Prayer that we need to look at.

 

2. PAUL IS CONFIDENT IN THE FUTURE PROSPECT OF VINDICATION

 

That fact that these Christians are growing, loving and persevering is evidence that God is right.

2 Thessalonians 1:5

5 All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. (NIV)

 

Paul is not saying that as a result of their endurance through suffering they have gained access to God’s Kingdom. If you hang in there and keep a stiff upper lip that will make you acceptable to God — NO! NO!

Entrance into God’s Kingdom is through repentance and faith in Jesus! This occurred for the Thessalonians when they believed the good news about Jesus that Paul brought to them

2 Thessalonians 1:10 …….. you believed our testimony to you. (NIV)

 

It is the teaching of scripture that beyond conversion real Christians will ultimately persevere. We may stumble and fall, we may have doubts like Thomas, we may at moments disown our Lord like Peter but ultimately a real Christians will persevere – like Thomas he will say “My Lord and my God!” and like Peter will weep.

 

Two brief points about points about vv5-10:-

1) The kingdom of God in this context is the consummated kingdom – i.e. the new heaven and the new earth.

2) The Thessalonians perseverance is not mere stamina – grin and bare it – but a stedfast endurance with an eye on the goal – the glorious kingdom!

Christians don’t seek suffering out of a kind of masochism  – we don’t believe that suffering is intrinsically good.

 

In these verses Paul is not talk about heaven BUT rather what the prospect of heaven means for believers and hell for those who oppose them.

 

For believers there will be vindication – for others there will be retribution

 

2.1. For believers there will be vindication

 

2 Thessalonians 1:6&10 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. … 10 on the day he comes ….. to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (NIV)

 

There is a real expectation here!

 

There was a time when the second coming of the Lord was much preached about – if not debated among evangelical Christians.

Have we not lost something of our anticipation of the Lord’s coming?!

This is a profound and central truth of our faith – this world as we know it will come to and end. There will be a new heaven and a new earth – Christ will return in glory.

 

These should not be simply credal statements – these should be truths that transform the way we live now.

We should be investing in the Bank of Heaven  where Matthew 6:20 …….., where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. (NIV)

Sadly many of us have been seduced into investing our time and money and energies into what is earthly and temporal and will one day go up in a puff of smoke.

 

How we spend our time and money and energy tells us what we believe to be important – where are you investing??

 

If, when Jesus returns there will be vindication for some …..

 

2.2. For others, there will be retribution.

 

2 Thessalonians 1:6-10 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you 7 …… This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people …… (NIV)

 

Many do not like the idea of retribution. Maybe you don’t!!

Some how we feel that it doesn’t fit with love and peace and forgiveness.

Some how an angry God who wreaks vengeance on people seems to fit better an OT view of God.

 

BUT God is just – why should we expect from God what we don’t expect from a human judge.

 

ILLUS: Remember a few years ago when a Welsh Court sentence a rapist to pay for his victim to have a holiday!! and in the same week another court find a man £500 for littering!!

 

There was outrage in the press! This is unjust!! It is not fair!! Is there nothing to be said for retribution!!

 

The Christian gospel is solidly based on the notion of retribution! Where there is evil it must be paid back or God is affronted! God cannot overlook evil on the ground that he is loving and kind! IF God was like that he would be weak and unconcerned about justice!

 

God is concerned about love and justice! His holiness demands retribution — while his love sends his Son to absorb that retribution.

The cross stand for God’s justice and his love!

For the Christian forgiveness is never detached from the Cross!!!

Forgiveness is never the product of love alone! —  Forgiveness is only possible because there was a real offence and a real sacrifice to offset that offence!

 

But when people see themselves as the centre of things and reject Jesus saying “I’ll do it my way!” — then they will face retribution because they have refused to accept God’s forgiveness and love.

Jesus suffered retribution so that you and I could be reconciled to God.

 

In some cases not only do some refuse God’s forgiveness they then take it upon themselves to make life difficult for those who have accepted Jesus!

 

Paul say of these —

2 Thessalonians 1:6  God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you ……

 

Hell is not just a place of being cut off from God – sinners will not be crying out for another opportunity to repent. There is no biblical evidence that there is any repentance  in hell.

 

The evidence is that the self-centredness of man persists and persists – and so does the judgement. People refuse to accept God as God – they persist in there self-centredness — they will not accept Christ’s sacrifice. And so ….

2 Thessalonians 1:9 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power (NIV)

 

A very sobering truth!!

 

In this present world – those who reject God seem so strong and so right and so wise BUT Christian understand this — the final vindication of God’s revelation and the claims of the gospel come at the end of the age 2 Thessalonians 1:10 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (NIV)

 

The importance of this truth as the context for Paul’s prayer crucial! Paul’s fundamental orientation is to the end of the age – to the vindication of God’s people!

 

Where is our emphasis? In our materialistic world – where comfort and self-fulfillment and pleasure and excess and individualism rule it is hard to follow a rejected, despised and crucified Messiah. Unless we have our eyes fixed on the END we will fail. Unless we see that there is a new heaven and a new earth coming we will fail! Our vision will be small – our efforts unworthy – our motivation wrong!

 

Can we expect to be biblically spiritual people if we are not oriented to the world to come!

Put in the context of this passage can we pray correctly if our focus is on this world and not on the one to come!

 

Are you growing – loving – persevering?  How does the anticipation of Christ’s return shape your values and your prayers?

Can you say with Paul

2 Thessalonians 1:11

11 With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith. (NIV)

 

What is your prayer for yourself and for your fellow believers as you enter 1997!!

 

Lord help us live in the light of Your coming,

striving for purity, fleeing from sin.

Catching a glimpse of what we are becoming,

being transformed to Your likeness within.

            The trumpet shall sound,

            look to the skies

            for Jesus is coming again.

            Then through the clouds His children shall rise,

            to share in His glorious reign.

 

Lord help us see there is hope beyond measure,

Joy beyond suffering, justice restored.

Fixing our eyes on the heavenly treasure,

Jesus our Saviour, Redeemer and Lord.

 

Lord fill our hearts with a real expectation,

Heirs of the promise, our destiny sealed.

Praising our Saviour with glad adoration,

when in Your glory You shall be revealed.

Geoff Baker © 1995 Sovereign Music UK [Keswick 1995]


PAUL’S PERSPECTIVE ON PRAYER.

 

2 Thessalonians 1:3-12.

 

1. PAUL IS THANKFUL FOR THE

               PRESENT EVIDENCE OF GRACE.

 

     Paul gives thanks…

           … that his readers’ faith is growing.

          … that their love is increasing.

          … for their perseverance under trial.

 

2. PAUL IS CONFIDENT IN THE FUTURE

                     PROSPECT OF VINDICATION.

 

     For believers there will be vindication

     (For others there will be retribution)

 

 

Paul prays “With this in mind…”

 

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2 Thessalonians 3:1-5 – Prayer Requested: Prayer Offered

2 Thessalonians 3v1-5

Prayer Requested: Prayer Offered.

Introduction.

Paul has spent a large part of his letter so far talking about the future coming of Christ. He has talked about the Last Day, the antics of the Devil and the revealing of the ‘man of lawlessness’. He has explained that the ‘secret power of lawlessness’ is always at work in the world – that is, all that is anti-god – directly or indirectly.

As Christians we live in a world in which the powers of evil are at work while at the same time these evil powers are also being held back from complete anarchy. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. (NIV)

Also we are, as Christians, living in two realms. Jesus came to give new live – eternal life / life of the Age [to Come]. However that eternal life starts now in this world. So we are citizens of this present world with all its imperfections and opposition to God and we are citizens of the kingdom of Heaven. This is, of course, the source of much tension for Christians as we seek to live by God’s criteria in a world that largely ignores God and his Word.

In this final section of his letter Paul gives direction to the Thessalonian Christians. His prayer is that the Word of God will be honoured both in the world and in the Church.

It is God’s desire, indeed it is his purpose, that his church should grow. In fact Jesus promised it would, Matthew 16:18 18 … I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (NIV)

God wants his Church to grow in numbers as the gospel spreads to all the nations of the world. He also wants the Church to grow in obedience and spiritual maturity.

Paul’s prayer request for himself and his fellow-workers and his prayer for the Thessalonians is for both of these dimensions.

The Church must spread the Word to the World.

The Church must herself obey the Word.

  1. 1.     Prayer for the Gospel.

2 Thessalonians 3:1 Finally, brothers, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you. (NIV)

pray for us – is in the present imperative tense meaning that what Paul is asking is that they pray form him AND keep on praying for him.

Do you ever ask others to pray for you?

Here is the great Apostle Paul – a man of strong faith and exceptional ability and yet he has the humility and the wisdom to ask these Thessalonian Christians to prayer for him and his fellow workers. They were young in the faith while Paul was a veteran. What an encouragement it must have been to these young believers that they could be part of Paul’s ministry.

When you and I ask for prayer what is it that we ask for? Is it for things for ourselves usually? I guess it often is!

In this 1st request Paul asks for two things.

Ä For the Advancement of the Gospel.

Ä For the Acceptance of the Gospel.

1.1.         The Advancement of the Gospel.

Literally what Paul ask is “that the message {logos} of the Lord may run its race”.

Paul uses the imagery of an Olympic event – maybe he had attended some of the Greek Games at sometime – certainly the imagery was familiar to his readers.

It was also used in the OT – Psalm 147:15  He sends his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly. (NIV)

Paul’s concern and desire is that the Gospel will be like a champion runner – running well, running fast, and that wherever it goes it may it may be honoured – have a glorious reception.

1.2.         The Acceptance of the Gospel.

Paul has seen the Thessalonians and others embrace the Christian Faith and he longs that many more will do so.

We know that Paul had a great vision to reach the Roman Empire for Christ. One can’t read the letter to the Romans without being left with the clear impression of his passion to preach Christ even as far as Spain.

His request is that these Thessalonians Christians will share his burden that the good news of Jesus Christ will run in every direction and be accepted wherever it goes.

Is that our passion? It this the subject of our prayers? Is our over-riding concern for the gospel of Jesus Christ?

What we think about. Read about. Pray about. Give our time and money to reflects our priorities and passions. Is it for self-advancement and self-comfort or is it for the cause of Jesus Christ.

Missionary activity and concern for missionary activity is not the responsibility of a select few. It should be the concern of every Christian – the advancement and Acceptance of the Gospel. A Church that has lost its vision for mission has lost its heart for God. A Christian who has no concern for the salvation of others is not in tune with God’s purposes.

In fact as someone has said “The height of selfishness is a Christian who is content to go to heaven alone!”

  1. 2.     Prayer for Promoters of the Gospel.

2 Thessalonians 3:2-3 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. (NIV)

Paul’s 2nd request for prayer is for protection. This is for himself and his fellow missionaries.

Now while it is true that some are specially gifted as missionaries and evangelists as Paul was, it is also true that we are all called to participate in the advancement of the gospel. This will mean different things for different people. For many of you most of your life in spent at work and it is likely therefore that that is where your opportunities to demonstrate and talk about your faith will come.

2.2. Protection from evil faithless forces.

However, we must be under no illusion that the advancement of the Gospel will take place unhindered. The forces opposed to God ensure that the task is not a simple Sunday afternoon stroll but a strenuous, all-consuming cross-country marathon with numerous obstacles.

We have seen in this letter the Satan is the one behind all that opposes God.

Not everyone is going to accept the message of the gospel. In fact it seems that most will be indifferent and some will actively oppose it and make life as difficult as possible for those who seek to promote the gospel.

ILLUS.: Recently two Christian ladies were standing outside the Millennium Dome offering Christian literature to visitors. The were reported to management and In spite of the ladies pointing out that the millennium is only happening because of Jesus Christ they were told to stop because “This project is multi-faith!”

People have faith in many things but Paul is talking about faith in God through Jesus Christ alone! And without such faith people remain faithless in relation to God and the gospel.

When it comes to being a witness and a promoter of the gospel we must confess that it is not easy. We often feel vulnerable, timid and sometimes threatened.

BUT… here is another of scriptures ‘buts’.

2.2. Protection by good faithful God.

There is a play of words here. Those who oppose may be faithless BUT God is faithful.

The faithlessness of humans can never overturn or undermine the faithfulness of God to his people and to his word [logos – v.1 message].

God has spoken and decreed that the gospel will succeed. God’s message of salvation will be received by those who respond to God’s word. God is faithful to His word.

Jeremiah 1:12     12 The LORD said to me, “…. I am watching to see that my word is fulfilled.” (NIV)

Isaiah 55:11         11 .. my word .. goes out from my mouth:

It will not return to me empty,

but will accomplish what I desire

and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. (NIV)

There may be opposition and that is why Paul urges the Thessalonians and us to engage n earnest prayer – spiritual battle.

God is not only faithful to his word but also to his people. We fail the Lord and we fail each other and we fail ourselves BUT God remains faithful – faithful to strengthen his people and to protect them. Protect us in the sense that we will have a cosy comfortable life? NO! Rather as in the Lord’s prayer so her to protect us from the Evil One. Satan seeks to snatch us away from God, to destroy us with himself BUT God is faithful and will not allow that to happen to his people.

The church with all her weaknesses and shortcomings will succeed – The gospel message carried by weak and feeble messengers will triumph because God is faithful and does not fail.

Matthew 16:18 … I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. (NIV)

Revelation 7:9  After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. …. (NIV)

 

The Message of the Lord must be proclaimed / preached / taught/ talked about / gossiped/… by all means.

To be effective it must be received by the hearer.

And because the Evil One is being obstructive we need to pray that unseen spiritual forces will not stop the free-flow of the gospel.

  1. 3.     Prayer for Believers to live the Gospel.

2 Thessalonians 3:4-5 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. (NIV)

Having requested the Thessalonians to pray for him Paul now offers a prayer for them.

Ä He expresses his confidence in God’s enabling.

Ä He desires that their commitment will be to be Godly.

3.1.         Confidence in God’s enabling.

Note that Paul does NOT say “We have confidence in YOU and in your ability to do …”

If our ability and willingness to obey God depended on us we would be very insecure in our faith. BUT Paul’s confidence is in the Lord’s ability to keep and strengthen and enable his people to obey his commands.

Paul’s confidence is well-founded – God perfects what he has begun –

Philippians 1:6 6 being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. (NIV)

How is it that we experience this spiritual strengthening and protection? “By continuing to do the thing we have been commanded”.

Often we wonder why we are not experiencing the blessing of God. Why God isn’t teaching us wonderful new things.  May it be that we fail to obey what we already do know?

3.2.         Commitment to be like God.

2 Thessalonians 3:5 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. [patience] (NIV)

Does he mean OUR love for God and OUR patient waiting for the coming of Christ? Or does he mean God’s love for us and Christ’s patience with us?

I believe it is neither of these and yet a combination of them.  That our love will grow and become more and more like God’s love so that we begin to love unconditionally. That we will develop patience and perseverance and constancy, even in the face of opposition just like Christ.

In short, that in all things we will grow up into Christ and be like him.

Conclusion.

This then is what Paul requested prayer for and what he prayed for in others. Does this reflect the way we pray?

When we pray do we pray expectantly or is it just words?

Sometimes we learn most not from learned adults but from the childlike trust of the young.

ILLUS.: The red umbrella – retold by Tania Gray.

As the drought continued for what seemed an eternity, a small community of midwest farmers were in a quandary as to what to do. The  rain was important not only to keep the crops healthy, but to sustain the townspeople’s very way of life. As the problem became more urgent, the local church felt it was time to get involved and planned a prayer meeting in order to ask for rain.

In what seemed a vague resemblance of an old Native American ritual, the people began to show up. The Pastor soon arrived and watched as the congregation continued to file in. He slowly circulated from group to group as he made his way to the front in order to officially begin the meeting. Everyone he encountered was chatting across the aisles, enjoying the chance to socialise with close friends. As the pastor finally secured his place in front of the congregation, his thoughts were on the importance of quietening the crowd and starting the meeting.

Just as he began asking for quiet, he noticed an 11 year-old girl sitting in the front row. She was angelically beaming with excitement and laying next to her was her bright red umbrella, poised for use. The beauty and innocence of this sight made the Pastor smile to himself as he realised the faith this young girl possessed that the rest of the people in the room seemed to have forgotten. For the rest had come to pray for rain …. she had come to see God answer.

Do we pray with an understanding of what is on the heart of God? And do we pray with childlike faith expecting God to answer?

God calls us to pray but not selfish for what I want but rather “May YOUR will be on earth as it is in Heaven”

 

Prayer Requested: Prayer Offered.

 

2 Thessalonians 3v1-5

 

1.  Prayer for the Gospel.

 

– The Advancement of the Gospel.

 

– The Acceptance of the Gospel.

 

  1. 2.       Prayer for Promoters of the Gospel.

 

– Protection from evil faithless forces.

 

– Protection by good faithful God

… of His Word

… of His People

 

  1. 3.       Prayer for Believers to live the Gospel.

 

– Confidence in God’s enabling.

 

– Commitment to be like God.

 

 

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17 – Stability and Durability

 

2 Thessalonians 2v13-17

Stability and Durability.

 

Introduction.

 

ILLUS.: In 1992 a popular American Yachtsman set out from The USA to sail across the Atlantic to Les Sables-d’Olonne, France. He was very experienced sailor – his yacht, Coyote, was state-of-the-art. It was equipped with the latest satellite tracking system and radio-direction finders etc. He was sent off with an enthusiastic farewell. After 11 days radio contact was lost – no one was too worried as he was a experienced sailor with good equipment. As the days went by and still no contact the worry increased and a rescue operation was launched. Eventually a freighter found the Coyote floating upside-down just north of the Azores. There was no sign of Michael Plant. No one back in the USA could understand it – yachts with 4-ton keels don’t capsize! Only when the boat was returned to shore did they see why. The 4-ton weight was missing – why? No one could be sure but the result was inevitable. Without the stabilising weight there was no chance against the storm.

 

Ship and aircraft have stabilisers to steady them in adverse weather condition.

Builders seek stable foundations so the buildings don’t subside.

 

Stabilisers are necessary to bring stability in the midst of turbulence and uncertainty. The NT has much to say about the turbulent world in which we live. It also has much to say to encourage and equip Christians to remain stable in an uncertain and ever-changing world.

 

The NT identifies the storms that threaten our stability and against which we have to “stand firm”.

Ä Opposition – which in extreme form as the Thessalonians were facing comes as persecution.

Ä False teaching – which Paul warns against in vv. 2-3 – an something which every church and every Christian must constantly guard against.

Ä Temptation – Satan is always looking for ways to cause God’s people to compromise their principles.

 

Behind these threaten storms stand the enemy of God and of God’s people – The devil himself. He is always seeking to attack, undermine, and discredit God’s people – physically through persecution; intellectually by false teaching; morally by tempting them to sin.

 

Whether these attacks of the Evil One are the constant secret power of lawlessness that is always at work in the world or whether it is the fierce storm of error and evil in the End Times when the antichrist is revealed, Christians need Stability and Durability.

  1. 1.     Stability.

 

In the first 12 verses of this chapter Paul has described an extremely volatile and frightening period. The Thessalonians Christians may well have been left wondering what was to become of them. How were they going to survive such and onslaught from the Evil One?

Paul now seeks to assure them that their situation while difficult is in fact secure.

 

Paul has just described in vv.10-12 the plight of those who have refused God’s love of the Truth – now he says…

2 Thessalonians 2:13

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth. (NIV)

 

These Christians were feeling unsettled and alarmed [v2] but Paul by contrast is confidently assured. How is this possible? Paul sees beyond the unstable circumstances in which they live to the light of God’s loving purpose for them. He is confident that they will remain stable and steadfast in their Faith because God is faithful.

 

We live in a time when less and less people are going to church – more and more are accepting a lifestyle and a philosophy of life that excludes / ignores God and we can feel vulnerable and isolated and unsettled– may doubt our faith. However Paul is confident that God’s people will share in Jesus’ glory.

 

It is difficult to imagine what it is like to share in Christ’s glory. I imagine it to be a state of total contentment. Sometimes we glimpse it as if from a distance – ILLUS.: Moments of wonder and contentment – Recently looking back on some family photographs and there was a picture of Janet and I on honeymoon in the Drakensberg Mountains. We are sitting on a rocky outcrop, framed by rocks on each side, with a magnificent panorama of the mountains in the background.

In the moment is an overwhelming feeling of wonder and contentment. We were hopelessly in love is a magnificent setting and all was right with the world.

A glimpse of what sharing Christ’s glory may be like.

 

We will be with the One who loves us infinitely – there will no longer be sin to cloud the relationship and we will be in a perfect environment – “lost in wonder love and praise”.

 

Paul gives a wonderful statement about God’s saving purpose in these two verses.

Look carefully at the structure of these verses:

2:13-14

13 .. God chose you

to be saved

through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and

through belief in the truth.

14 He called you to this {salvation}

through our gospel,

that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

Our stability is in the fact the God chooses and God calls.

 

In both God’s choosing and God’s calling Paul tells us how he does it and why he does it – the means and the end.

He chose us for the purpose of salvation – in contrast to those who are perishing [v10] NOT that God chooses them to perish but rather they perish because they refuse to believe. God accomplishes his purposes in salvation through the work of the Holy Spirit who sanctifies / makes us holy / acceptable to God.

It is also through belief in the truth – in contrast to those who close their minds to the truth and refuse to believe it.

He calls us for the purpose that we might obtain / share Christ’s Glory – he did this through the gospel – The gospel is the good news about what Jesus did to rescue humankind from sin and the judgement of God.

How did the Thessalonians hear the gospel? Because Paul and his companions preached it to them. God’s choosing / election doesn’t in any way undermine our responsibility to evangelism and mission. In fact it enhances it because it is through the witness of God’s people by sharing the gospel that God chooses to call people to himself.

 

God’s choosing / election puzzles many. While it may stretch our minds way beyond our ability to understand it at the same time comforts our hearts because we know that if our salvation depended on us we could not and would not have any assurance.

 

Paul’s horizons here are wonderfully broad. In eternity past God chose us. In time he calls us to himself by us hearing the gospel, believing the truth, being sanctified by the Holy Spirit with a view to sharing in Christ’s glory in the future eternity.

 

There is no need for instability and fear – let Satan attack the weakest believer; let the antichrist be revealed and the rebellion break out. Set against the instability of our circumstances and indeed against our own unstable characters we need to set the eternal stability and purposes of God.

Look ahead at 2 Thessalonians 3:3 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen and protect you from the evil one. (NIV)

 

  1. 2.     Durability and Perseverance.

 

Having confidence in God’s stability doesn’t mean that we sit back and do nothing.

Assurance of God’s faithfulness ought to prompt a response of faithfulness in us. This is precisely what Paul now encourages.

2 Thessalonians 2:15 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold on to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. (NIV)

 

Paul could have said “Well God has chosen and called you – you’re secure now so just relax and take it easy”.

On the contrary Paul’s call is to Stand firm and hold on.

Picture a storm with hurricane winds – the danger is of being swept off your feet and your hand holds being forced loose. Paul says, “You need to work hard at standing your ground and holding on for dear life”.

 

For Paul Christianity is not a quick-fix treatment or short-term solution for all that ails us.

As someone has said, “It is a long walk in the same direction!”

Hebrews 12:1  …, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.

Hebrews 3:14 14 We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first. (NIV)

Matthew 10:22 22 … he who stands firm to the end will be saved. (NIV)

In the face of opposition and temptation and discouragement it is not easy – we tire in the struggle of faith as an athlete tires in a race and a soldier get weary of battle. Durability and perseverance is what is called for.

ILLUS.: Like a marathon runner preserves despite a protesting body / a sculptor perseveres against the unyielding stone / a husband and wife persevere despite the strains of marriage and child-rearing.

Stand firm on what? Holding fast to what?

 

  1. 3.     Safeguard.

 

2 Thessalonians 2:15 15 So then, brothers, stand firm and hold on to the teachings we passed on to you, whether by word of mouth or by letter. (NIV)

 

One of the reasons the Thessalonians had become unsettled and alarmed is that they had allowed themselves to be misled by unreliable information. Instead of sticking closely to what Paul and his fellow-apostles had taught them and written to them they gave credence to information from “dodgy” places.

We have the apostle’s teaching written down in the NT. It is the best safeguard against misinformation.

 

In our day and age we find ourselves awash with false or deceptive teaching / information.

But all Churches and people claiming to be Christian appeal to the Bible to substantiate their particular view.

That is why we need to constantly check our beliefs and our actions against what the whole Bible teaching.

We need to ensure that we do NOT read it selectively leaving out the bits we don’t enjoy, or twist it to alter the original intent; or ignore parts our society finds offensive; or change section that restrict our lifestyle.

 

ILLUS.: I can’t believe that a God of Love would send anyone to hell therefore I don’t believe in Hell!

Evolution explains where the world came from so the bible account must be poetic / mythical language.

 

One of the consequences of our failure to hold tightly to the Scriptures and to stand firmly upon is that, like the Thessalonians, we become easily unsettled and alarmed. We become too easily like spiritual infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Ephesians 4:14

 

One more safeguard – Paul’s appeal for stability is to the Thessalonians as brothers [and sisters] – the context in which we stand firm and hold on is in the family of God – the Church.

 

We are to have fellowship in community – study in community – the exposition of scripture must be confirmed in the mouth of two or three witnesses. We are to wrestle together to understand God’s word to us.

Of course there is place for private and personal study – But there are dangers!!  Left to ourselves individually we can easily misinterpret the text. We all have our weaknesses and our blind spots and our prejudices. We need the checks and balances within the Church family to restraint our fierce individualism and establish the truth.

 

As we are established in the truth we will together be able to stand firm and hold on and so withstand the pressures and temptation from without.

 

 

 

 

  1. 4.     Supply.

 

Paul has assured us that God has promised to do something for us – to bring us to share in the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.

But we too have something to do – stand and hold!

NOW he prays that God will supply ALL we need to be stable and durable!

 

ILLUS.: More durable than Duracell batteries – They may be longer, longer, longer, longer lasting BUT they eventually do run out HOWEVER God gives us what is EVERLASTING!!

 

2 Thessalonians 2:16-17      16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 17 encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word. (NIV)

 

The God who instructs us to Stand firm and hold on is that same God who then gives us the strength and encouragement to do it.

 

Stability and Assurance – Durability and perseverance –  Encouragement and Strength –

 

A story that may help to see how God both encourages and strengthens –

ILLUS.: Paderewski – Polish composer /pianist at a concert – a young 9 year old boy got to the piano before the concert and started playing ‘chopsticks’ – people shouted at him. Paderewski came on – put us arms each side of the boy and accompanied ‘chopsticks’ whispering “Don’t quit. Don’t stop. Keep playing. Keep going..!” Together the simple ‘chopsticks’ sounded wonderful.

And so it is with us. We hammer away at our project, which seems about as significant as ‘chopsticks’ in a concert hall. And about the time we are ready to give up, along comes the Master, who leans over and whispers:

Now keep going! Don’t quit! Keep on … don’t stop; Don’t give up!” as he improvises on our behalf, providing just the right touch at just the right moment. [from Stories for the heart p.39]

 

May God take our feeble attempt at ‘chopsticks’ and turn it into a symphony of praise for His Glory.

 

2 Thessalonians 2:13-17

 

13 But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers

 

loved by the Lord,

 

because from the beginning God

 

chose you

 

to be saved

 

 through the sanctifying work of the Spirit

 

and through belief in the truth.

 

14 He called you to this

 

through our gospel,

 

that you might share in the glory

 

of our Lord Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

 

15 So then, brothers,

 

stand firm and

 

hold on

 

to the teachings we passed on to you,

 

whether by word of mouth or by letter.

 

 

 

16 May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father,

 

who loved us and

 

by his grace gave us eternal encouragement

 

and good hope,

 

17 encourage your hearts and

 

    strengthen you in every good deed and word.

 

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 – The Consequences of Persistent Unbelief

2 Thessalonians 2v1-12

The Consequences of Persistent Unbelief.

Introduction.

Whenever Christians talk about what the bible teaches about hell many people become quite annoyed.

  • “Why should God send Aunt Mabel to Hell? What has she ever done to offend him?”
  • “There are so many who are good, upright, honest people how can God punish them?”
  • “I can understand God punishing bad people – but not good people.”

This kind of thinking arises from two basic misconceptions:

1st – that a God of love should not punish.

2nd – that people are basically good.

It is true that God is Love. It is also true that God is Just.

No one would agree that a parent who allows a child to always do only exactly as he/she pleases is a good parent. Nor would we say that a govt. is caring if it allowed its citizen to do exactly as each pleased. We expect there to be discipline and punishment for law breaking. These illustrations are limitedand some what simplistic but makes a point.

According to the bible people are not basically good.

Jeremiah 17:9  The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure —

[desperately wicked]

Romans 3:23 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (NIV)

Therefore because we are not basically good, but in fact are sinners,  God …… commands all people everywhere to repent. – and believe the gospel Acts 17:30 – Gospel being the truth in Jesus Christ.

If humans ignore God’s instructions to repent, to love God with all heart, mind, souls and strength, to love neighbour as self then can they complain if God carries out his promise to punish the unrepentant.

This really is what vss.10-12 are about

Those who wilfully ignore God / are opposed to God / are indifferent to God and are determined not to respond to his offer of salvation in Christ then he lets them go the way they choose with the inevitable consequences.

We talked last time about the ‘man of lawlessness’ who is the instrument of Satan to destroy and deceive. This Lawless one / antichrist will seek to take the place of God in people’s lives and hoodwink they to believe anything except the truth about God.

While it appears that this Lawless one will be a historical figure in the end times and there will be spiritual, moral and social decline it is also true that the devil’s “secret power of Lawlessness” is always at work in the world. [v7].

When we think of opposition to God and lawlessness and rebellion we tend to think of riots and anarchy – and while that is part of it – often however, it is a persistent undermining of God’s order of things.

When there is a moving away from God / His ways then there is moral decline; there is social breakdown; then is an increase in antagonism and intolerance towards God’s people. There may be much religion – Satan is not opposed to religion, he is opposed to Christ. He is called the antichrist NOT the anti-religionist. After all he seeks worship of himself or anything / anyone else so long as it is not the one true God as revealed in Jesus Christ.

So those outside of Christ / not his people need to hear Jesus’ offer of how to come into relationship with God as Father.

Those in the church must be careful not to be duped by false teaching / false Christs / false prophets…

Matthew 24:24 24 For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect — if that were possible.

Satan is called – “the god of this world” – “a roaring lion seeking to devour ..” – “ masquerading as an angel of light seeking to deceive” – anti-God/anti-Christian attitudes and actions come in many guises.

So Far…..

In the section Paul unfolding an historical process – there is a time of restraint in which the secret power of lawlessness is held back. Next will come a time of rebellion when the lawless one will be revealed.  Then there will be the retribution during which time Christ will come and destroy the antichrist and all who believed his lie.

This time of rebellion at the end will not necessarily come suddenly. It may well come subtly and gradually so that we could be easily dupe if we are not on our guard. The devil-controlled antichrist will have great power – he will display miracles, and signs and wonders – counterfeit but not fakes – counterfeit because their purpose is to deceive rather than enlighten.

God’s signs and wonders are to point us to the truth – Satan’s signs and wonders are designed to deviate us from the truth. It is those who are perishing who are deceived by these things.

It is vv10 –12 that cause us some anxiety.

How can God send delusions to cause people to believe a lie and then condemn them for believing the delusion?

  1. 1.     The Perishing are Deceived. The Deceived are Perishing.

Both believers and unbelievers observe what is going on around them. They see the same phenomena – miracles, signs and wonders – but those who are perishing are the ones who are deceived. Paul is talking about the period of the end times but this is not exclusive to the end. This has been true all throughout history.

1 Corinthians 1:18         18 for the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (NIV)

2 Corinthians 4:3 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. (NIV)

The question is ‘Why’ and ‘How’ are they deceived?

2. They refuse to ‘love the Truth’

They are deceived because of their refusal to love the truth.

What is meant by the expression ‘love for the truth’?

Jesus calls himself ‘The Truth’. The message of the gospel is the truth. It is the rescue package that God offers to estranged sinners. God is in the business of reconciling wayward human beings to himself. The way that this reconciliation takes place is when in response to God’s offer of repentance and forgiveness through Jesus – of peace and reconciliation with God – people accept that offer, believe the truth of the message and come to love the Truth in the person of Jesus Christ.

In a very real sense we are all perishing until we come to Christ.

Romans 3:23 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, (NIV)

Romans 6:23 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NIV)

36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” (NIV)

BUT…

John 3:16 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

Behind the great deception lies a great refusal… John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects……

2 Thessalonians 2:10… They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.

This is not simply failure on an intellectual level as though someone has made an honest mistake. This goes hand in hand with taking pleasure in unrighteousness / delighting in wickedness [v12]. These words seem harsh – Aunt Mabel is a sweet old lady, not wicked surely. BUT remember wickedness / unrighteousness is basically living without God – doing what I want!

How are they deceived? Because of their refusal to accept God’s offer. The cause of their perishing lies not in God but in themselves.

3. They bring destruction upon themselves.

Paul, in vv11-12, gives us the grimly logical process that ends in the condemnation of the unbeliever. This is a very sobering passage of scripture.

Faced with the choice of God’s offer or Satan’s they choose the latter.

Do people go around deliberately and consciously choosing to follow Satan’s lies? No but that is the subtly of the deception. In refusing to accept God’s truth they accept Satan’s deception by default.

By persistently refusing to accept the Truth God eventually confirms them in their chosen course of action by sending them a powerful delusion.

ILLUS.: Remember the story in the OT of Pharaoh and the Israelites. The Jews were slaves in Egypt. Moses goes to Pharaoh to ask him to free the Jews. Pharaoh hardens his heart and refuses. After repeated requests we read Pharaoh hardened his heart. Then Exodus 9:12 12 But the LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart and he would not listen to Moses and Aaron…..

Pharaoh refused, and refused, and refused until God stepped in and he couldn’t but refused.

This same principle is taught by Paul in Romans 1

Romans 1:18-32

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 ..  24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served created things rather than the Creator ….26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, …. 28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worth while to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practise them. (NIV)

The crux of what Paul is saying is that God will honour the moral choices of individuals. Those who embrace a particular lifestyles will find that God gives them over to the consequences of their choices.

One of the ways in which God punishes us for our sins is that he leaves us to wallow in them – allowing a dissipated lifestyle to takes its inevitable consequences upon us.

ILLUS.: This past week I was watch TV News while I ate my lunch. I flipped channels and there was a woman’s programme. Someone asked the panel of 4 if any would consider having a fling / affair. They all said ‘NO’ – one elaborated by saying her parents had been part of a group who 20 years ago swapped partners BUT her parents never would. Then added all the coupled except her parents were not divorced.

Our choices have consequences. When people stubbornly refuse to acknowledge God and resist all God overtures of love and forgiveness he eventually confirms them in the choices.

God says, “If that is what you want, that is what you will have!”

4. They ultimately perish.

The ultimate consequence of persistent unbelief is to be condemned by God. The Bible describes it as Hell / eternal punishment / being cut off from God / receiving the wrath of God ….

It is an extremely sobering teaching.

It is not popular – even many Christians avoid talking about it. It is not something that is preached about much these days. We like to talk about God’s love and forgiveness and to make everybody feel happy. We want to come to church and be told heart-warming stories and sing uplifting songs – And there is nothing wrong with that!! Of course it has a place. The praises and Promises are great!!

BUT it must be balanced with the warnings. We ignore what the Bible teaches about hell to our peril.

It is no trivial matter to harden our hearts against the truth of God, to have no welcome for Jesus Christ, who is himself the truth.

When we refuse God we step onto the slippery slope that leads to condemnation.

Those who refuse Christ stand condemned already [John3] and will on the final Judgement day receive the due condemnation which they have chosen instead of the truth.

God created the world and everything in it, including us humans. Surely the designer and maker of the universe knows what is best for his creation. He has revealed to us that a personal relationship with him through his Son, Jesus Christ, is best for us. In spite of humans damaging this relationship God has done everything possible to repair the damaged the we, not he caused. If we refuse his offer it is a slap in the face – it is telling him that we puny creature know better – what an insult.

The person who goes to hell can never blame God – if we go there it is because we have chosen NOT to accept God’s love for the truth. God has done in Christ and is still doing all he can do to give us his truth BUT he will not force us.

5. The way of escape.

The only way to be protected from being deceived and condemned is to love goodness and truth. God gets no pleasure in condemning people.

John 3:16-17 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (NIV)

This is God’s pleasure and delight –he longs that sinners come to him. He delights to give us good gifts. He longs that we know and love him. It is not his desire that any should perish but that everyone should come to a knowledge of the truth.

There is no reason for anyone to be condemned – WHOEVER believes in JESUS shall not perish but have eternal life – BUT the sober warning is that rejection of God’s gift of His Son results in God’s judgement.

The Consequences of Persistent Unbelief.

2 Thessalonians 2v1-12 (Part 2)

 

Verses 1-12

      …characterised by 3 things

  • Restraint
  • Rebellion
  • Retribution

 

Verses 10-12

      The Perishing are Deceived…

…The Deceived are Perishing.

 

Ä   because

They refuse to ‘love the Truth’

They bring destruction on themselves

 

Ä   therefore

They ultimately perish

 

      HOWEVER…

                  Now there is a way out…

 

                        WHOEVER believes in Jesus shall not

perish but have eternal life” John3v16

2 Thessalonians 2:1-12 – God’s always triumphs!

2 Thessalonians 2v1-12

God’s always triumphs! God’s enemies always ultimately fail!

Introduction.

ILLUS.: This past week we have seen the conviction of Dr Harold Shipman for the murder of 15 of his female patients – and there could be many more.

We are shocked by such things – and there is much pontificating and wringing of hands by the public in general and media in particular. Someone described Dr Shipman as “evil through and through”. BUT as Anne Atkins who presented the Thought for Today on Radio 4’s Today programme on Thursday this week pointed out “There is within everyone of us the potential for such things”.

You would have to live with your head in the sand not to see moral decline in our society – and less and less regard for the law. The attitude of many is not, “Is it right?” but “Can I get away with it?”

The question is, “Is our age any different to previous times in history where there was decadence and disorder – Or is this the beginning of the end?”

Are we living in the end times? Yes and Maybe! Yes because we are always living in the end times – and maybe because Jesus could come tomorrow or in another 2000 years. We simply do not know when.

What we do know is that Christ will return and when he does he will deal with all those opposed to him and will vindicate his own people.

God always triumphs! God’s opponents always ultimately fail!

This is Paul’s main point – There was some confusion amongst the Thessalonians as to the nature and timing of Christ’s return – coupled to which they were under pressure from persecution.

In his 1st letter emphasised Christ’s 2nd Coming. Referred to often as “The Day of the Lord” / “That Day” / “Judgement Day”.

  1. 1.     Has the ‘Day of the Lord’ already arrived?

2 Thessalonians 2:1-2 1 Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, 2 not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. (NIV)

The issue is fairly straightforward at this point that on the basis of some prophetic utterance or teaching or false claim of another letter from Paul himself some were claiming that the Day of the Lord had already come.

Paul then response to these reports by writing another letter – which he signs with his own hand / read last two verses of letter / and assures them that the ‘Day of the Lord’ had not come. The reason being was that certain things had to happen prior to Christ’s return and these things had not yet happened. This is what he spends the next 8 or so verses explaining.

NOTE: These next 8 or 10 verses are some of the most difficult in the NT to understand.

  • Paul is replying to reports and question from the Thessalonians and we do not know what those were – we can only guess what they might have been from the answers given.
  • Part of Paul’s answer is to remind them of what he taught them when he was with them 2 Thessalonians 2:5           5 Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things? (NIV) One of the reasons we struggle with this passage is because Paul takes for granted that the Thessalonians know what he is talking about. He simply gives them a cryptic reminder.
  1. Why the ‘Day of the Lord’ has not yet arrived.

Paul gives two reasons why the ‘Day of the lord’ has not yet come.

2 Thessalonians 2:3 3 Don’t let anyone deceive you in any way, for [that day will not come] until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, ……. (NIV)

1st – there will be a rebellion

2nd – the rebellion will be led by a rebel – the man of lawlessness.

Is this rebellion to be political or religious? Likely both with the emphasis on the religious.

Is this ‘man of lawlessness’ the antichrist? It certainly seems to be the same person about whom John writes in 1 John 2:18    18 Dear children, this is the last hour; and as you have heard that the antichrist is coming, …. (NIV)

All this Paul taught them when he was with them and he reproaches them for their forgetfulness in v.5.

There are three basic questions we need to answer from this text – with help from other parts of scripture.

  • Who is this rebel?
  • What form will this rebellion take?
  • What will be the outcome of the rebellion?
  1. Who is this rebel?

As we said earlier this man of lawlessness is also called antichrist. Paul describes him in 4 ways:-

2 Thessalonians 2:3-4 3 … the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. 4 He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God. (NIV)

  • The one who is Lawless. [v3 & v8]
  • The one who is doomed.
  • The one who opposes God
  • The one who exalt self

He will be one who disregards all laws – civil and moral. All in the name of freedom. Jesus predicted this – Matthew 24:12 12 Because of the increase of wickedness [same word – lawlessness / anomia], the love of most will grow cold, (NIV)

This rebel is not only intent on creating anarchy but also wants to establish himself as the object of worship. He wants to usurp God’s place. He wants to dethrone God and enthrone himself.

What he means by the temple is uncertain.

  • Is it a reference to the physical Temple in Jerusalem – destroyed in AD70?
  • Is it a reference to the Church – often called God’s temple?
  • Is it simply a figure of speech to indicate the rule of God and the worship due to him?

At various points in history there have been those who have shown no regard for God and his people and who have tried to set themselves up as gods.

The theme of opposition to God goes back to the Garden of Eden.

The King of Babylon – Isaiah 14:13-14 13 …”I will ascend to heaven;

I will raise my throne above the stars of God;…

14 …I will make myself like the Most High.” (NIV)

The Ruler of tyre – Ezekiel 28:2 2 ……”I am a god;      I sit on the throne of a god..

In the 2nd C BC the Syrian King Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) Enter the most holy sanctuary of the Temple in Jerusalem and erected a stature – probably of the Greek god, Zeus, and then proceeded to sacrifice a pig on the altar.

This is the one who Daniel call the ‘little horn’ and said Daniel 11:31

31 “His armed forces will rise up to desecrate the temple fortress and will abolish the daily sacrifice. Then they will set up the abomination that causes desolation. (NIV)

In 63 BC the Roman General Pompey entered Jerusalem and desecrated the Temple.

This was the ‘abomination of desolation’ referred to by Jesus in Matt.24 but he also clearly indicated that it still had future significance. Jesus was probably referring to the Jewish wars of AD 66-70 when the Roman armies seized Jerusalem, took the emperor’s image into the Temple courts and offered sacrifices there. The Temple was then destroyed.

During Paul’s time Roman Emperors claimed to be god – coupled with fierce persecution of Christians.

The apostle John wrote about antichrist / and the spirit of antichrist.

So who is the ‘man of lawlessness’ / ‘antichrist’?

It seems that in the end there will be one man. However, speculation about his identity seems to me to be a waste of time. Many have tried through the centuries – there is a long list including:-

  • Roman Emperors
  • Numerous Popes
  • Muhammad
  • Martin Luther
  • Napoleon Bonaparte
  • Hitler – Mussolini – Stalin.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev – the birth mark on his forehead allegedly being the mark of the beast.
  • Ayatollah Khomeini
  • Henry Kissenger

All through history there have been false teachers / lawless people / opposers of God. History repeats itself and prophecy often has multiple fufilments. All these evil leaders through history have been forerunners and anticipate the final ‘man of lawlessness’ who is an end-time figure yet also historical.

  1. What form will this rebellion take?

Paul says to the Thessalonians:-

–         The Day of the Lord has not yet come

–         because the man of lawlessness has not been revealed nor has the rebellion taken place

–         This is because there is something/ someone restraining him – 6 And now you know what is holding him back, so that he may be revealed at the proper time. 7 …. the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of the way. (NIV)

–         When the constraints are removed the rebellion and its leader will be revealed – it is the same word used to describe the revealing of Christ / Satan is the master counterfeiter. Many will be deceived by this because of the miracles, signs and wonders that accompany the ‘man of lawlessness’

–         The antichrist’s power will not last

–         Because he will be overthrown by the authentic Christ at his revealing. The power and position of the Lawless one will wither and be proved insignificant when compared to the awesome splendour of Jesus Christ.

What is the something / someone that Paul refers to as holding back this evil lawlessness?

Ä Some think that Paul is referring to himself and his preaching of the gospel –

Ä Others think it is the church and the Holy Spirit – No doubt the Church is to be salt and light and the Holy Spirit is present in the Church and at work in the world. However, there is no hint in the Bible that at the end times the Holy Spirit will “be taken out of the way”.

Ä It seems Paul may have in mind the Rome and the power of the state – By extension that applies to every state as the guardian of law and order / of public peace and justice. The bible clearly teaches that these civil authorities are God’s agents to hold society together and to restrain evil men.

It seems that state becomes the instruments of Satan at the end – Rev.13.

BUT isn’t this precisely the point – we see lawlessness in places were civil authorities are corrupt and Law and Order breaks down. Rwanda / Bosnia / Cambodia / – We see it is nation states and in society in general – This is what Paul says 2 Thessalonians 2:7 7 For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; …..

What will happen in the end when the ‘man of lawlessness’ is revealed will be an increase in lawlessness both in intensity and extensity. There will be greater lawlessness and it will be world-wide.

Evil is inherently and fundamentally deceptive. Sometimes it comes as a frontal attack but most often it is a creeping undermining of God’s order of things.

It comes often not as an open invitation to do evil but as a camouflaged invitation to do something that appears to be good but isn’t. 2 Corinthians 11:14 14 .., for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. (NIV)

Satan uses this “secret power of lawlessness” to disrupt and corrupt all that is good and godly. His anti-law, anti-God, anti-social movement is now suppressed and held back but we can detect its subversive influence around us today.

Þ   Legitimate concerns for quality of life are used to hide the reality of euthanasia.

Þ   The language of personal privacy and choice are used to mask the destruction of life by abortion.

Þ   Under the guise of freedom we have cheapened that sanctity of marriage, sex and family life.

Þ   When criminals get away with little or no punishment for their crimes and their victims are charged for protecting their own property. ILLUS.: Businessman in USA who fired an employee for stealing – taken to an industrial tribunal and lost. Reason- stealing from the company was not expressly forbidden in his terms of employment.

Þ   When big businesses in the name of greater profits for their shareholders exploit their workers in sweatshops and hazardous working condition for pitiful wages.

Were it not for the remaining restraints which preserve a measure of justice, freedom, order and decency these thing would break out much more. And one day they will when the restraints are withdrawn and the secret power of lawlessness becomes and open rebellion under the leadership of the lawless one who will be revealed.

At that time we can expect a period of unprecedented political, moral, religious and social chaos. The true God and Law will be largely ignored – chaos and anarchy will abound BUT SUDDENLY … the Lord Jesus will overthrow him with the breath of his mouth and destroy him by the splendour of his coming.

It is true that we need to be aware of the Devil’s scheming – we need to hear what Paul is saying about the Spirit of Lawlessness and the revealing of the Lawless one.

The Focus of our interest must be Christ and not antichrist!  Far too often people have become obsessed with the timetable of the End Times and who the antichrist is.

Paul point to the Thessalonians is that while they need to be aware of these things they need to take confident assurance from the fact that in the end Jesus wins He is the truth and the focus must be on him. The only way anyone is not going to be duped and destroyed by the Lawless one is to belong to Christ. In the end God’s opponents are always defeated and God always wins!

If we are not going to be deluded we must keep the focus on Jesus!

Turn you eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in his wonderful face

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim

                           In the light of his glory and grace.      Helen H Lemmel

God’s always triumphs!

God’s enemies always ultimately fail!

 

2 Thessalonians 2v1-12

 

Has the ‘Day of the Lord’ arrived? v1-2

 

No! The ‘Day of the Lord’ has not yet come. v3

 

Ä Because    ~ the ‘man of lawlessness’ has not   

                        yet been revealed. v3

        ~ the ‘Rebellion’ has not yet happened. v3

 

These have not yet taken place because there is something / someone holding them back. v6-7

 

Who is this Rebel?

  • The one who is Lawless
  • The one who is Doomed
  • The one who opposes God                   v3b-4
  • The one who exalts himself as a god

 

What form will the rebellion take?

  • It will be a period of unprecedented political, moral, religious and social chaos and anarchy. v9-10a
  • Throughout history there is ‘lawlessness’ and ‘wickedness’ v7  – a foretaste of the time of rebellion.

 

What will be the outcome of the Rebellion?

  • The power of the ‘Lawless One’ / Antichrist will not last ~ Christ will destroy all his opponents at his coming v8
  • Jesus will come suddenly but not unexpectedly.

 

KEEP FOCUSSED ON JESUS!

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 – God is just (part 2)

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 (part 2)

 

GOD IS JUST 

 

Introduction.

This is part two of a sermon we began last week. God is just and he punishes those who reject him and he rewards those who accept his offer of new life through Jesus by faith in him.

 

One day Christ will return and he will call to account ALL people. Those who remain unrepentant will on that Day be judged.

Those who have acknowledge and obeyed God will on that Day be vindicated.

 

3. It will be all right on the Day.

 

The Thessalonian Christians were suffering because of their faith in Christ.

 

Jesus taught that suffering was the unavoidable path to glory – for himself and his followers.  “… who for the joy set before him endured the cross…”

 

Suffering and glory belong together – Romans 8:17 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (NIV)

 

3.1. The “When” – “Who” – “What” of God’s punishment.

 

When will God put right the injustices of this world?

2 Thessalonians 1:7 7 …… This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. (NIV)

 

Jesus will come himself —– we read here in blazing fire. A symbol of God’s holiness – a consuming holiness — he will come as judge of all the earth.

 

Who will he punish?

2 Thessalonians 1:8 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (NIV)

 

However, the scope of God’s punishment is directed against all those who wilfully reject the knowledge of God and the gospel [good news] about Jesus.

The REB [Revised English Bible] best grasps the original meaning – “… those who refuse to acknowledge God and will not obey the gospel…”

 

What will be their punishment?

2 Thessalonians 1:9 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power

 

Talking about hell and God’s punishment is not a popular subject –

 

God has gone out of his way and done everything that he can possibly do – supremely in sending his Son Jesus Christ – God doesn’t want any one to be punished. Jesus took the punishment in our place. God longs that we come to him. 2 Peter 3:9

 

Those who come will share in God’s glory.

Those who refuse to come will incur God’s punishment.

 

Choices and consequences are part of life!

We believe we have a fundamental right to choose. And we are free to choose but what we are not free to do is choose the consequences of our choices.

 

Paul’s description of God’s future judgement is based upon the consequences of an unavoidable choice – the decision whether to accept or reject the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ.

– those who refuse to acknowledge God and will not obey the gospel will find themselves “shut out” from the presence of God and his majesty.

 

This is only half the equation – we still need to consider the glory that awaits those who do know and obey God.

By sharing with the Thessalonians the vision of the future consequences of a choice made Paul is seeking to encourage them and us to remain faithful to God in spite of difficulties.

 

If we are God’s people the thought of that day should not fill us with dread – It will be all right on the day

 

3.2. The “When” – “Who” – “What” of God’s Reward.

 

When will Believers receive God’s rewards?

This will happen on the Day when Jesus is revealed – when there will be a sharing in his glory – 2 Thessalonians 1:10 10 on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you. (NIV)

 

 

 

However, they did not have to wait until Christ’s return to begin to enjoy some of the blessings – This becomes clear in v12. – 2 Thessalonians 1:12 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

 

Christians are not waiting empty handed until the Second Coming. It is not as if we have no rewards and benefits from the gospel now. We have many. Eternal Life begins now! Jesus didn’t say to Nicodemus in John 3, “You must be born again at the end of time!” It starts in the present.

 

Who will be rewarded?

We saw last week that those who refuse to obey God will be “Shut out” from God’s presence.

It is clear in this context that it is the Thessalonians who are rewarded – as well as all who acknowledge God and obey the gospel in contrast to those who refuse to do so.

 

The question then of course is, “What is this reward?”

 

What is the reward?

The reward is that we will share Christ’s glory. The Bible does seem to teach that there will be degrees of reward in heaven.  We must guard against a misunderstanding of rewards – The joy and fulfilment of each believer will be full and complete for eternity. We tend to think on a human level and our perception of happiness is based on the assumption that happiness depends on what we possess or the power or status we have.

In actuality our true happiness is found is a relationship with God and the recognition and status that HE has given us.

If complete happiness depends on the greatest status then even in heaven we will be disappointed – the apostles will have higher places / as will others.

 

Our reward and fulfilment will be that we share in His glory. What does this mean?

 

A brief grammar lesson.

Gk. Word – “en” – in the NIV as “in his holy people” and “among all believers”

It is one of those word that can be translated by a host of prepositions – in, by, with, through, among,…

 

How then is Jesus to be glorified in relation to him people?

  • Not among – like a celebrity mixing with the audience at the theatre – she may be amongst them by they are not sharing her glory.
  • Not by – as if they are spectators watching and applauding.
  • Not through / by means of – as if they are mirrors that simply reflect something but have no part of it.

Rather – “IN” – Stott uses the illustration of a filament from a light bulb or electric radiator. The filament itself glows with light / heat when the electric current passes through it.

The difference between these models is crucial.

–         a theatre is not changed by the players that perform in it.

–         An audience in not necessarily changed/ moved by the drama they watch.

–         A mirror is not affected by the images it reflects.

BUT A filament is changed – when the current is switched in it becomes incandescent.

 

SO when Jesus is revealed in his glory not only will his people see his glory BUT they will also share his glory.

Now all illustrations are limited and so too this about the filament. – When the current is switched off the filament goes dark and cold. NOT SO with God’s glory in his people. We will be radically and permanently changed, being transformed into his likeness.

1 John 3:2 2 Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is. (NIV)

 

Some how, in a way that we can not yet appreciate or understand we will glow with His glory.

The occasion when Jesus was on the Mt. of Transfiguration gives us an insight.

Matthew 17:1-5 1 … Jesus took with him Peter, James and John …. up a high mountain by themselves. 2 There he was transfigured before them. His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became as white as the light. 3 Just then there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus. …            4 ….

5 …, a bright cloud enveloped them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” (NIV)

 

In other words Jesus’ body became the vehicle for his glory. In a similar way it will be so with his spiritual body, the Church. The Church will be transfigured by the glory of Christ.

 

Now if this is all a bit too esoteric for you then let us come down to the nitty-gritty of this present world in which we are to live.

 

 

4. Future Glory – Present purpose and practice.

 

The Bible never allows us to live with our heads in the clouds! The promise of a secure future for the Christian doesn’t allow us to presume that we can live anyhow in the present.

 

Two things Paul prays for:

2 Thessalonians 1:11

1st        –  …, that our God may count you worthy of his calling,

2nd     – ….and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.

 

It is not that we are worthy to be called by God – God doesn’t act graciously towards us because we deserve it. Grace in fact means that we are receiving something that we do not deserve.

What Paul is appealing for is that having been called by God and having received his gift of eternal life in Jesus we will in the here and now conduct ourselves in harmony with that gospel-call.

What Paul is appealing for is that in the estimation of God himself we may live and act as it becomes Christians – that we may be worth of the name Christian / God’s people.

Ephesians 4:1 …, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received.

 

When God called us we were undeserving and unworthy and we were given new life in Christ. Since then, since coming to faith in Christ, God continues to work in us to narrow the gap between what we were when he called us and what we should be and shall be.

2 Corinthians 3:18 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. (NIV)

 

2nd     – ….and that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.

— every .. purpose – resolve

— every act – work

These two things show that the Christian life is never an easy ride.  It requires resolve and it requires work. This is not to gain acceptance with God BUT having come to God by faith we must live out that faith in a practical day-to-day manner.

 

It is not just resolve and work per say. Criminals can be resolute and work hard at what they do but that is not very commendable

It is good resolve / purpose  — It is work in response to faith!!

 

Always our intentions and actions are judged by our attitudes.

In order for a purpose to be good it must be in keeping with God’s purposes as only God is good.

Good resolve / purpose is insufficient if it is not translated into action.

I can resolve to pray but if I never pray it is not much good.

I can resolve to show kindness to someone but if it doesn’t prompt action what is the point. ………. And on and on.

 

Such a way of living is only possible for the Christian because of the power of God available to each one and when our attitude is one of faith and trust in God.

In v3 we saw Paul talking about our growing faith and increasing love –

 

ILLUS.: An athlete increases in ability as he exercises and practices.

 

As we workout our faith and put into practice what we believe we grow spiritually – the muscle of our faith are built up

 

What is the reason for our endeavouring to live this way?

2 Thessalonians 1:12 12 We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

When God’s people, enabled by God’s power, live in a way that is worthy of their calling and their resolve produces goodness and their faith produces good works – THEN Jesus is seen and honoured in them.

 

We have talked of the glory of Christ we Jesus returns. We do not have to wait until then to see something of the glory of Christ.

Sure it will be spectacular then – awe-inspiring cosmic splendour as the heavens light up when he appears / and the trumpet blasts / and the archangel shouts / ..

 

In the meantime we can see the glory of Christ in his people as we by faith display in attitude and action the characteristics of Jesus. Even now the filament can glow in us with the glory of God.

 

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,

All his wondrous compassion and purity,

Oh, Thou Spirit Divine,

All my nature refine,

Till the beauty of Jesus is seen in me. [MP136]

 

 

GOD IS JUST

 

2 Thessalonians 1v1-12 (Part 2)

 

“It will be all right on the Day” v5-10

 

The “When” – “Who” – “What” of God’s punishment

 

The “When” – “Who” – “What” of God’s rewards

¨   When will this be?

¨   Who will be rewarded?

¨   What is the reward?

To share in His Glory –

– not only to see it as spectators but also to receive it and be changed by it

 

 

Present purpose and practice.  v11-12

 

¨  “… that our God may count you worthy of his calling”

¨  “… that by his power he may fulfil every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith”

 

 

Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me,

All his wondrous compassion and purity,

Oh, Thou Spirit Divine,

All my nature refine,

Till the beauty of Jesus is seen in me.

 

 

2 Thessalonians 1:1-12 – God is just

2 Thessalonians 1v1-12

 

GOD IS JUST.

 

Introduction.

 

ILLUS.: We have all seen films or read stories about rich and powerful people or corporations who exploit and badly treat the small guy. A person who stands up for their rights or the rights of others and is squashed. The small powerless person fights back and when they win it makes us feel good. I like those kind of stories – John Grisham has written some really good ones – “Pelican Brief, The Firm, Street Lawyer ……”

 

Why do these kinds of stories give us a real sense of satisfaction? Because there is within most of us the deep desire to see justice done – to see good triumph over evil.

 

The desire for justice is even greater when we are personally the victims of injustice or unfair treatment. We want those who have caused us pain and difficulty to pay for their actions. The desire for vengeance is incredibly strong. When we are hurt our natural desire to it hurt those who have hurt us.

 

The Thessalonians Christians were in an extremely hostile situation. We know this from the first letter that Paul wrote them – they suffered at the hands of their own countrymen and from outsiders. Now in his second letter he mentions their hardships and persecutions again and commends them for their perseverance and encourages them to continue in the power of God. He does this by reminding them that God is with them now in the difficulties AND that he will bring about a just solution in the end.

 

  1. 1.     General Greeting.

 

2 Thessalonians 1:1-2  1 Paul, Silas and Timothy, To the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ: 2 Grace and peace to you from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. (NIV)

 

We won’t spend time looking at this as it is almost identical to the first letter.

It does remind us – and we need to remember – that as Christians we belong to two worlds. Of the Thessalonians – we live in a particular place in a physical world BUT we also have spiritual life in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. This is possible only because the grace of God brought each believer into a relationship of peace with God through Jesus Christ.

  1. 2.     Genuine Spiritual life shouldn’t be static.

 

Paul is in these verses thanking God for the spiritual growth and maturity of these Thessalonian Christians. He sees in them qualities that are evidence that God is at work in and among his people.

 

Paul expresses this thanks to God for the three things that are happening in them:-

For growing faith

For increasing love

For enduring persecutions (hope)

 

Paul doesn’t use the word hope but it is reasonable I think to assume this is in mind.

He has commended the Thessalonians for these qualities of faith, love and hope in his first letter and here again he thanks God that they exhibit them. Notice that

In these verse these spiritual qualities are not static. These qualities are progressive / dynamic – their faith is growing more and more. Their love is increasing. And their staying power is growing as they continue to persevere in the midst of troubled times.

 

We must be careful not to see faith as a pre-packaged commodity that we receive all neatly wrapped in a little box. And then some get bigger packages than others and that is why some have more faith -–or are able to love more! Sometimes a person will say, “I have lost my faith!” like one would say, “I have lost my car keys” as if faith were a commodity.

 

Faith is a relationship of trust in God and like all relationships it is to be living and dynamic and growing. Sometimes that relationship of trust can be strong and sometimes weak. Jesus in his dealing with various people seemed to imply degrees of faith.

Jesus said of the Roman Centurion – Matthew 8:10  When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, “I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. (NIV)

 

In the same chapter speaking to his disciples during the storm on Lake Galilee –

Matthew 8:26 26 He replied, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.

 

We talk similarly about love. We passively assume that we either love someone or we don’t – and then we shrug our shoulders dismissively as if there is nothing we can do about it. BUT we can take steps to nurture faith, love and hope.

These qualities are gifts from God but they are given in the context of a relationship – As our relationship with God deepens so our faith, love and hope will grow. It is God at work in his people and them responding and co-operating with the work of his Holy Spirit.

 

3. It will be all right on the Day.

 

The Thessalonian Christians were suffering because of their faith in Christ. We have to confess that we know nothing of this kind of persecution – there are millions though who do.

 

None of us would choose to suffer – We feel sorry for those who are persecuted and rightly so.

However I sometimes wonder – you may think this crazy – if we are actually the ones who are worse off – we are missing out on what God is teaching those who live in situations more difficult than ours.

WHY? Because Jesus taught that suffering was the unavoidable path to glory – for himself and his followers.

We are quite happy to accept this way of thinking in some areas of life – e.g. sport –  the oft quotes cliché, “No gain without pain!”

Jesus warned that – “in this world you will have trouble” // “take up your cross daily and follow him”

Paul warns – Acts 14:22 22 ……… “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” …. (NIV)

 

Suffering and glory belong together – Romans 8:17 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs — heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. (NIV)

 

So Paul encourages the Thessalonians that their suffering is in fact God preparing them for glory. In the meantime his grace is sustaining them and sanctifying them.

 

Q> What about those who cause this suffering? What about those who wilfully ignore God?

The question must have arisen in the minds of the Thessalonians – as surely as it does in ours “What about those who persecute God’s people // What about those who ignore God // What about those who ridicule his Church // What about…?

 

What is the answer to all these questions? – GOD IS JUST!

We sometimes find it difficult to accept and grasp this in a world where we see so much suffering and injustice – And on the other hand we see those who cause these sufferings prospering and at ease. It seems sometimes that the world is up-side-down. We are tempted to shout out, “Why doesn’t God do something?”

BUT he is doing something – he is allowing his people to suffer in order to bring them to glory // to his heavenly kingdom.

AND while the wicked might seem to prosper and triumph temporarily we need to see that 2 Thessalonians 1:6 6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you (NIV)

 

For the next 4 verses we are given a clear picture of how God will execute his judgement.

 

3.1. The “When” – “Who” – “What” of God’s punishment.

 

When will God put right the injustices of this world?

2 Thessalonians 1:7 7 …… This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. (NIV)

Seen this in the first letter….

1 Thessalonians 4:16 16 For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (NIV)

 

Jesus will come himself – the same Jesus who died, rose from the dead, ascended to heaven – he will come in glory. He will be revealed – the purpose of unveiling to so something can be seen / in this case someone.

When Jesus came the first time as a baby to Bethlehem it was in weakness and obscurity – Not so when he returns – with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God and we read here in blazing fire. A symbol of God’s holiness – a consuming holiness that cannot tolerant anything unholy.

When he come he will deal with all unholiness / injustice / wickedness / ….. because he will come as judge of all the earth.

 

Who will he punish?

2 Thessalonians 1:8 8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. (NIV)

 

Paul identifies those who will be on the receiving end of God’s punishment – those who are uppermost in his mind are those who have been giving the church in Thessalonica a hard time.

However, the scope of God’s punishment is directed against all those who wilfully reject the knowledge of God and the gospel [good news] about Jesus.

The REB [Revised English Bible] best grasps the original meaning – “… those who refuse to acknowledge God and will not obey the gospel…”

 

What will be their punishment?

2 Thessalonians 1:9 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power

 

Talking about hell and God’s punishment is not a popular subject – Especially in a society that values, or maybe even worships, personal freedom and choice // and where tolerance is the highest virtue. How can Christians be so crass as to suggest that a God of love {If indeed there is a God} – that he would be so cruel?

I have had people say to me – “How could God punish in hell some like So-and-so as he is such a nice and kind person – he would never hurt any one – he will go out of his way to help people – in fact he is a much nicer person than many Christians I know!” ALL of those things may be perfectly true – and God certainly does want us to be kind, helpful and nice people!! BUT those who refuse to acknowledge God and will not come to God through Jesus Christ, no matter how nice they may be will be reject by God on the Day of Judgement.

 

God has gone out of his way and done everything that he can possibly do – supremely in sending his Son Jesus Christ – God doesn’t want any one to be punished. Jesus took the punishment in our place. God longs that we come to him. 2 Peter 3:9 9 The Lord …. is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. (NIV)

God is constantly reaching out to humanity – calling us to come to him – BUT he will not force us – he wants us to respond to his invitation. To willingly come to him instead of wilfully rejecting him.

 

Those who come will share in God’s glory.

Those who refuse to come will incur God’s punishment.

 

Choices and consequences are part of life!

We are faced with a mind-numbing array of choices every time we go to the supermarket – or buy a new car – or go to a restaurant.

Choice is one of the characteristics of modern life –

 

However a second characteristic of modern life is the tendency to avoid responsibility for our choices – we have become very good and passing the buck, and blaming others – blaming the govt. – blaming the system – blaming our genetic make up — anything except a willingness to take responsibility for the consequences of our actions.

We believe we have a fundamental right to choose. And we are free to choose but what we are not free to do is choose the consequences of our choices.

 

Some choices are trivial and so are the consequences – Whether I drive a Peugeot or a Ford // whether I shop at Waitrose or Sainsbury’s is of little consequence.

Some choices are not trivial – some have profound consequences for life.

In certain things we MUST choose!

 

One of Robert Frost’s famous poems captures this:

Two roads diverge in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

and be one traveller, long I stood ….

Then took the other ….

Oh! I kept the first for another day!

Yet know how ways lead on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back….

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-

I took the one less travelled by,

And that has made all the difference.

 

Paul’s description of God’s future judgement is based upon the consequences of an unavoidable choice – the decision whether to accept or reject the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ.

 

When the time comes and all people appear before God – as is inevitable – those who acknowledged God and obeyed the gospel will be with the Lord forever in glory.

– those who refuse to acknowledge God and will not obey the gospel will find themselves “shut out” from the presence of God and his majesty.

 

This is only half the equation – we still need to consider the glory that awaits those who do know and obey God.

By sharing with the Thessalonians the vision of the future consequences of a choice made Paul is seeking to encourage them and us to remain faithful to God in spite of difficulties.

 

If we are God’s people the thought of that day should not fill us with dread – It will be all right on the day – because Jesus came in our place – took our punishment – incurred the wrath of God on the cross and so we will be able to stand before God on that day confident of his acceptance and reward.

 

The fact that there are still many who refuse God’s offer should spur us on to prayer and witness – that they too will experience God’s grace and mercy.

 

 

 

GOD IS JUST

 

2 Thessalonians 1v1-12

 

General Greeting  v1-2

 

Genuine Spiritual life shouldn’t be static v3-4

  • growing faith
  • enduring persecutions (hope)

  increasing love

 

“It will be all right on the Day” v5-10

 

The “When” – “Who” – “What” of God’s punishment

 

  • When will God put right the injustices of this world?
  • Who will he punish?
  • What will be their punishment?

 

The “When” – “Who” – “What” of God’s rewards

 

Grace and Glory – Then and Now v11-12